The Spike Lee Joint Collection

Movies Reviews Spike Lee
The Spike Lee Joint Collection

Director: Spike Lee
Studio info: Universal Pictures

The best of times and the worst of times from a singular filmmaker

Spike Lee is never afraid to speak his mind. And what a mind it is. Unfortunately, his films tend to have more ideas than places to put them. Whether visual, dramatic or political, they often crowd the frame and spill over the story structure. While such a surfeit of conceptual wealth has sometimes made his films feel uneven, he’s never made one that’s less than compelling. The five titles in this collection are cases in point, nicely highlighting his bristling talent and maddening lack of restraint.

In Clockers, he uses the premise of Richard Price’s gritty crime drama as an excuse to ruminate on conscience and the self-loathing of inner-city drug dealers. The title sequence alone—with its crime-scene photographs of bullet-riddled African-Americans set to Terence Blanchard’s achingly beautiful score—sets the stage for the broken Rake’s Progress to follow. Likewise, Rosie Perez’s boxing dance to Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” in the titles for Do The Right Thing establishes the film’s intense energy. A near-perfect ensemble piece, each element falls together effortlessly, balancing all characters and arguments while building to a devastating climax.

Less satisfying, but equally ambitious, is Lee’s consideration of artistic hubris in Mo’ Better Blues, with Denzel Washington playing a gifted jazz musician who must lose his gift to realize his humanity. As with all of Lee’s films, the rich use of color and music gives Blues its texture, but its vague dramatic arc sends the story wandering. There’s a similar problem at the heart of Crooklyn, Lee’s overlong glance back at the Brooklyn of his ’70s youth. While Delroy Lindo and Alfre Woodard deliver terrific performances as the parents, Lee never forms much of a spine to the film, and instead falls back on ham-handed camera ploys like a wide-angle visit to an unpleasant aunt.

The most muddled is Jungle Fever, which raises its subject of interracial relationships and lack of intraracial respect over the importance of character development or story, though the discussion that inevitably follows a viewing is lively. The set itself is value-priced, and though it lacks supplements, it’s a quick way to acquire some truly thought-provoking cinema.

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